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4 Western Myths and the Truth Behind Them

March 27, 2023

The West is a whole lot bigger, wilder, and stranger than you may think! Today we tackle four western legends to set the story straight and bust the myths. 

Related: Put Your Knowledge of the West to the Test with Cowboy Trivia

Your dude ranch experience can include cattle pushing. We will make anyone a cowboy or cowgirl at our Colorado ranch!

Myth: California is Where the Gold Rush Began

“The Golden State” is where the first major gold rush in the United States occurred, right? Wrong! Despite the 1848–1855 California Gold Rush being the largest mass migration event in U.S. history (with roughly 300,000 people heading to California in the hopes of striking it rich), it wasn’t the first major migration of miners in America—it wasn’t even the second! 

Fifty years prior to the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California, a man named Conrad Reed discovered a peculiar, 17 lb glittering rock in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Reed and his father (on whose land the nugget was found) used the 17 lb hunk of gold for a doorstop, until a passing jeweler revealed the truth to them and ignited America’s first gold rush. 

The second gold rush – started in 1829 in Lumpkin County, Georgia – vastly overshadowed the Carolina rush, and would itself be overshadowed by the wild riches later found in California.   

Related: Hitch Up Your Desert Canary and Brush-Up on Some Cowboy Slang

Myth: Six-Shooters Were Always Packed With Six Shots

The common Western revolver is an iconic symbol of cowboys, famous gunslingers, and the West as a whole. Whether the weapon was a Colt, a Smith & Wesson, or a Remington, the six-chamber design of the revolver was a tried-and-true staple of the time. Western films frequently play with the legendary trope of the six-shooter, featuring gunslinging robbers and heroes who count their enemies’ shots to know when their foe is due for a reload. 

But, as it turns out, real gunslingers usually only loaded their six-shot revolvers with five rounds. This was due to the design of the weapon and its dangerously simple firing mechanism. “Single action” revolvers work by cocking a hammer and pulling a trigger to release that hammer. The hammer hits the striking pin on the cartridge, and the force causes the bullet to fire. The problem? Well, when the gun wasn’t in use, the hammer was still resting on the firing pin, and that meant bumping into the bar could blow a hole in a cowboy’s leg. Safety mechanisms prevent this in modern revolvers, but back in the day the best solution was to have an empty chamber beneath the hammer. 

Myth: Cowboys Wore Cowboy Hats

Is any symbol more evocative of the cowboy than the classic cowboy hat? It even has “cowboy” in the name! 

While every cowboy worth his salt wears a Stetson now, hat fashion was very different back in the day. Hats were all the rage, and the modern cowboy hat could still be found, but all the cool guys and gals were topping their heads with other styles. The bowler hat was peak fashion, especially among educated and classy folks like Butch Cassidy. Top hats and similar headpieces dominated the cities, and for folks spending lots of time on the range, the practicality of their headwear was most important.

John B. Stetson introduced the “Boss of the Plains” hat to meet the demands of the dusty and hot frontier. The Boss of the Plains featured a bowler-like, rounded top with an extremely wide brim. This was the most common cowboy hat of the era – even though it doesn’t look much like a cowboy hat as we know it today. Modern cowboy hats, also designed by Stetson, would achieve popularity through depictions in Western films and rodeos. 

Related: Find Your Cowboy or Cowgirl Fashion Style 

Myth: The Age of the West is Over

Ours is an age of fast-paced commerce, AI innovation, and always-online computer connectivity. Safe to say the American West and its storied customs are dead and gone… right? 

horses at C Lazy U

At C Lazy U – the inclusive guest resort and working dude ranch that’s been operating for over a century – we know the traditions of the West are alive and better than ever. Nestled in the historic Colorado Rocky Mountains, C Lazy U in Granby, Colorado is the perfect place to connect with nature, yourself, and the sweeping spirit of the American West. No matter the season, you can learn to ride a horse like a pro, drive cattle over the pasture, catch a monster trout, shoot like a gunslinger, and explore 8,500 acres of authentic, preserved Western countryside. Experience farm-fresh fine dining, romance by firelight, and a level of relaxation that’s only possible with country living. 

The West is waiting for you. Are you ready to grab it by the horns?    

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Was there for a Julie Goodnight clinic so always wonderful. But Ami knows her stuff! Love that she puts the horses first. All of the wranglers are great.

~ Melinda C., 09-21-2021

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